WikiLeaks Unveils Smart TV Surveillance By US Intelligence

Last updated: July 5, 2023 Reading time: minutes

Would you ever prefer staying under constant surveillance? The expected answer will be ABSOLUTELY NOT! However, as per CIA’s worldwide hacking program, you remain under close observation even if you consider yourself sitting peacefully in your personal space.

Recently WikiLeaks published a massive hoard, dubbed as Vault 7 as part of the leak series Year Zero. These confidential documents encompass the biggest ever leaks concerning the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The cache is comprised of a total of 8,761 documents of 513 MB, leaked by an unidentified group within the agency, exposing its capability to break into iPhones, Android, smart TVs, Microsoft, Mac and Linux operating systems.

The exploited CIA’s program namely Weeping Angel makes the agency’s hackers accessible to Samsung Smart TVs via its built-in voice control microphone, while the TV stays in Fake-Off mode.

The “Fake-Off mode” shows that the display is switched off whereas the hardware functions secretly. This inspection technique transforms the TV into a furtive microphone relaying recorded audio data to a server regulated by CIA. According to a reference in the cache, the malware is transmitted via an infected USB drive.

Previous year while emphasizing on the smart devices – being the breaching preferences of American snoopers – The Guardian reported that James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence said, “In the future, intelligence services might use the [internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials”.

Samsung Smart TV breach is another problem surfacing on the IoT (Internet of Things). While speaking to The Intercept, Kenneth White being a security and cryptography researcher said that smart TVs are a pretty easy target as well as a pretty great attack platform as they generally sit in a living room or in a more personal space i.e. a bedroom. He further said that “there is zero chance the [CIA has] only targeted Samsung. It’s just too easy to mod other embedded Operating Systems,” found in the smart TVs sold by every other manufacturer.

Vault 7 contains no credible information disclosing the list of targets of Weeping Angel and the models of Samsung TVs that lay defenseless at the hands of Weeping Angel. However, it has mentioned one model, the F8000, which has been described as “the best smart TV system so far” by Engadget.

In 2015, the mounting privacy concerns regarding Samsung’s TV voice recognition feature went viral so in order to alleviate the distressed consumers, the company released an FAQ. Samsung convinced its users by answering that, if a microphone icon appears on the screen it means that the TV’s voice recognition feature is enabled whereas if no icon appears, the feature is regarded as disabled.

Nevertheless, this pledge about displayed icons seems to be a wild goose chase if the TV has been hacked by the CIA. The consumer may enjoy the full control over their TV’s different functions but when it comes to the TV’s voice recognition controls, all hell break loose as this feature is solemnly operated by the hacker.

When Samsung was asked to comment on this recent exploit it did not instantly answer to the request. Similarly the CIA refused to comment on the leak, however, Heather Fritz Horniak, CIA spokesperson wrote, “We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents”.

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Rutaba Rais is Editor at Be Encrypted with focus on Technology and Internet Security. Apart from her Healthcare background, she has interests in Lifestyle, Journalism, and expressing her opinion by her writing. You can follow her on Twitter.

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